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Saudi can be global content hub; more cinemas set for Kingdom: Film CEOs tell FII

Published: Updated:

Global film CEOs and distributers said they believe that Saudi Arabia can be a worldwide hub for storytelling and content creation as plans for more cinemas in the Kingdom were unveiled at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference heard on Thursday.

While cinema box office revenue decreased by 71.5 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a recent report by media and tech research firm Omdia, the appetite for films is going from strength to strength in Saudi, Ignace Lahoud, CEO, Majid al-Futtaim Group, which oversees VOX cinema in the region, told the forum.

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“We felt the impact of the pandemic just like the rest of the world, but we have seen a strong revival,” he said. “With recent blockbusters such as Bond and Venom…we are back to levels before pandemic.

“And in Saudi over the last few years we have seen strong growth. We plan to be in ten cities by the end of 2022. We believe we can triple our expansion.”

Lahoud said this week the Majid al-Futtaim Group will officially break ground on the Mall of Saudi project the Kingdom’s flagship destination for retail, leisure and entertainment.

The Mall, located in the al-Narjis District, will eventually be home to a growing number of cinema screens in Saudi Arabia.

VOX, one of the main operators, already operates 15 cinemas, amounting to 154 cinema screens, across the country.

Lahoud said many studies have placed the potential in Saudi as 2,000 cinema screens over the coming years. While Lahoud said this is still a long way off, VOX believes the Kingdom holds vast potential.

“We plan to be in ten cities by the end of 2022. In the next three years we will double where we are today.”

Ultimately, VOX believes they can “triple our expansion” in the Kingdom, he said.

The forum heard how the COVID-19 pandemic led to an upsurge in streaming content online. Online transactional and subscription video revenue increased by 30 percent from 2019’s $26 billion to $34 billion in 2020.

Demand for local content

Lahoud said Saudi filmmaking talent can plug the demand for an increasing appetite for local content.

“There is a hunger for local content. There is an emerging generation of young and talented creatives. We want to be at the center of the industry that promoting the local talent. “

Robert Simonds, chairman and CEO of US-based mega media company STX Entertainment, said one of the by-products of COVID-19 was an “explosion” of appetite for new and readily available content.

“As content makers we sell to everyone, obviously with COVID the world has changed, the model has changed. It has made it far more profitable. COVID was horrible but one of the interesting by-products is we are having some of the best few years since its existence.”

Sanford Climan, president of Entertainment Media Ventures, also told the forum that he believed Saudi Arabia could become a filmmaking hub.

He said films such as Netflix megahit Squid Game showed the demand for well-made local content.

“Saudi Arabia will be the center for content creation – not just in MENA. People are watching high-quality content in any language with the effortlessness of subtitles. The hope is this region will be the true hub of storytelling,” he said.

“It is taking the heart of Arab hospitality and taking it to the people. Take the young Saudi filmmakers and give them the tools and let them tell the stories that reach the hearts of the world.”

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